Knesset grants initial approval of controversial ‘muezzin bill’ – Israel News

A mosque in Abu Ghosh with its minarets towering above.
(photo credit:REUTERS)

After a stormy debate that included mutual insult-hurling by the Left and Right, Muslim and Jews, the Knesset passed 55-48 in its preliminary reading the controversial “muezzin bill,” a proposal to ban religious institutions from using outdoor loudspeakers.

As the bill is in its early stages, two versions of the legislation were approved by the plenum; the more strict version by Yisrael Beytenu MKs Robert Ilatov and MK Oded Forer, who suggest prohibiting the use of outdoor speakers at any time, and the softer version by MK Moti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi) and MK David Bitan (Likud) that forbids the use of outdoor speakers to sound the call for prayer in residential areas from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The bills also stipulates for a fine of NIS 10,000 for violating the law.

Following the preliminary reading approval, the Knesset House Committee will decide which committee will discuss the proposed law ahead of its first reading.

When Yogev presented the bill in front of the Knesset plenum, he stressed that in his point of view this is a social bill, not a religious one.

“I was approached by many citizens, including Muslims, to deal with this phenomenon,” he said.

“Many people all over the country suffer on a daily basis by the noise made by the call to prayer. This is a social bill that seeks to allow citizens to rest during the sleeping hours and not to be awakened at 4:30 a.m.

“We do not wish to harm worshipers by this bill,” Yogev added. “We also believe that god is one, god is great, allahu akbar. We are partners on this matter. But hundreds of thousands of citizens in mixed [Jewish and Muslim] areas – Haifa, Acre, Nazareth and all over Israel – all suffer from this.”   

Yogev stated that contrary of ancient traditions, loudspeakers in houses of prayer are a relatively new phenomenon. “This is not an ancient tradition from the beginning of history,” he said. “Loud speakers are a phenomenon that started in the last century. In past decades we had alarm clocks – that’s what Jews are doing in the month of Tishrei and Muslims should do it to wake up for their dawn prayer.”

During his address, Yogev was interrupted several times by multiple MKs, mainly from the Israeli-Arab Joint List party. Faction chairman MK Aymad Odeh and MK Masoud Ghanaim tore up copies of the bill in front of the plenum and were sent out by the speaker. MK Ilan Gil-On (Meretz) called on coalition lawmakers to oppose the bill and added: “where is your sanity?”

Ayman Odeh rips copy of muezzin bill (credit: The Joint List)

MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) presented his objection to the bill in front of the plenum and said the muezzin sound was never a nuisance or an environmental damage.

“This is an important Islamic ritual,” he said. “We as Muslims never interfered with legislation in your Jewish spiritual rituals.”

“This bill is a racist nuisance. You are touching the deepest nerves of Muslims and hurting the Islamic religion,” Tibi added. “The azzan [act of call to prayer] was here before the racist lawmakers came.”

Meanwhile, right-wing MKs criticized the Arab MKs response and blamed them for fanning the flames. “You are the top inciter,” shouted MK Oren Hazan (Likud) at Tibi. “You are a criminal, a liar and an inciter,” he said. While presenting his version of the bill, Ilatov responded to the by Arab MKs and said: “you should go back to Saudi Arabia.”

MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) stressed that in his opinion this bill do not represent a war between Arabs and Jews, but between enlightenment and ignorance. “This is a war between sanity and racism,” he said. “This is a disgrace on this house that time after time declares a war against the Arab minority.”

Bahloul mentioned his recent efforts along with MK Yehudah Glick (Likud) to prevent the passage of the bill and to find alternative solutions to the issue. “We have made a moral pact to fight this bill,” he said. “We met with rabbis and sheikhs on multiple occasions and we had agreements.”

Despite a common rule about MKs voting in favor of bills supported by their parties, Glick and Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) did not vote.

After the vote, Glick said that he was sorry that there are political forces adding fuel to the fire of animosity between the the Muslim and Jewish public while wishing to satisfy their constituency. “There are alternative solutions that do not demand fistfights and imposing legislation,” he said.

“These communities are going nowhere,” he added. “I was best if this problem was solved with consent by both sides like we’ve seen in Acre, Haifa and other cities.

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